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Steamy, rainy weather has forecasters in a fog

At least something about the next few days of weather is predictable _ the humidity.

With extra moisture from a weekend of heavy rains, the heat index has soared above 100 for most of Tampa Bay. Today and tomorrow, says the National Weather Service, should be equally muggy.

Known as the feels-like temperature, the heat index mixed Monday's high of 89 degrees and 70-percent humidity to create a balmy 102 at Tampa International Airport.

It was 104 in Sarasota, and even worse in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, where the heat index was between 105 and 110. The return of summer humidity left a dramatic impact after last week's rains.

"This beats not eating," said Phil Henry, a heavy equipment operator. "You don't get paid if you can't work. The rain kept us off the job some last week."

Whether he will work the next few days remains to be seen. The Weather Service says the forecast, other than anticipated humidity, is not so simple.

The system that brought as much as 14 inches of rain to parts of Southwest Florida has confused even the most seasoned meteorologists. On Monday, they were calling it a very "weird and persistent" weather pattern.

"It's been beyond the state of the science," said meteorologist Dan Miller in Ruskin. "The general point I want to get across is the weather pattern has been very tricky. The computer models haven't been able to get a handle on it."

Still, he said the philosophy among forecasters is calling for some improvement the next 48 hours. But showers and thunderstorms remain likely, as does variable cloudiness.

A low pressure system continues to pull in huge amounts of moisture from the Caribbean, but the prevailing thought Monday was Tampa Bay would be spared more deluges. Most likely, Miller said, the bulk of nasty weather will found in the north-central and northern parts of the state.

June, he said, has been an odd month for weather. First an early hurricane, then a cold front that brought unseasonably dry temperatures, then a mass of storms that flooded many areas and washed out roads last week.

At Tampa International Airport, more rain fell the past few days than normally falls the entire month of June. As of late Monday, 9.79 inches was the recorded rainfall for this month, including the 7 inches from this weekend. The norm for June is 5.48.

One rain gauge near 80th Avenue and 49th Street N in Pinellas Park caught 11 inches in nine hours. On Beach Drive in downtown St. Petersburg, several merchants had to dry their carpets as water seeped in from behind their stores.

"Let's just say it was highly inconvenient," said Jane Molloy of Johnston of Florida, a clothing store. "We hiked up everything real high so we wouldn't lose anything."

So did residents along Horse Creek in De Soto County, but it did little good. At least 94 homes were flooded, and damage to bridges, roads and culverts was estimated $1.4-million.

In Charlotte County, where flooding and damage was considered the worst, more than 200 people were processed Monday at the county's damage assessment center. But some 50,000 users of the county's utility services were able to drink their water again without boiling it.

While residents there still were cleaning up the mess Monday, lightning sparked a mobile home fire near Brooksville in Hernando County. The foul weather also caused a series of traffic-related problems and toppled power lines.

On Monday, William and Patricia Carnley were just glad to be home. Storms had delayed the rescue of the Sebring couple after their 24-foot Bayliner sank in the Gulf of Mexico. When the engine began to smoke and the boat began to take on water from a faulty hose Sunday, the Carnleys loaded what they could into a rubber dinghy.

Their boat finally sank about 7:30 p.m., taking the couple's clothes and other belongings with it. But a hand-held transmitter was safe, a transmitter that four hours later allowed the Coast Guard to track the couple's distress signal 5 miles west of Cedar Key.

"My wife says we ought to get another boat, but I'm not so sure," said William Carnley, 53. "I guess it's like being thrown off that proverbial horse."

_ Times writer Justin Blum and information from Times wires was used in this report.